Thanks to a grant from the Economic Development Administration and the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority (WAIA), work is progressing on an inland port and intermodal facility to be located in Crawford County.
At the WAIA meeting Wednesday (July 8) the authority agreed to issue a request for quotes (RFQ) in August for work to complete an environmental assessment begun by the Arkansas Corps of Engineers in draft form for WAIA of the area they hope to locate a port, said Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, and authority executive director.
The authority announced in April that it had applied for and received a $450,000 EDA grant to prepare the design of the port and facility and to conduct the environmental assessment. The grant is an 80/20 matching grant, meaning the EDA will provide $360,000 (80%) and WAIAA will be responsible for remaining $90,000 (20%). Each of the four entities that are owners of WAIAA — Fort Smith, Van Buren, Sebastian County and Crawford County, contributed $22,500.
“We know we want a port there, even though we don’t own all the land yet. It was decided to go ahead with the environmental study and plan a layout to work from,” Pitsch said.
The WAIA voted in January 2019 to sign a five-year non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with New Orleans-area Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District and inland waterway shipper American Patriot Container Transport LLC of New Orleans for shipping of containerized freight on the Arkansas River out of Crawford County. That shipping has been postponed until April 2022 to allow for “relay” of a new system of shipping containers to Asia and Europe.
American Patriot updated the authority on their efforts to secure contracts with entities for the possible port, and though they could not disclose any possible contracts, they did encourage WAIA to move quickly on the study and design process, Pitsch said.
“They told us things were moving, and we decided to put (the study) out for bid and get the ball rolling,” Pitsch said.